From its headwaters in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, the Dan River travels between high rock cliffs and steep bluffs covered with rhododendron as it flows through Stokes County. As the river flows into Rockingham County, its waters slow and widen until it becomes typical of the Piedmont, where a successful mill industry once developed and flat bottomed boats ferried supplies up and down the river. From Rockingham County, the river re-enters Virginia and then dips back into North Carolina for a short distance in Caswell County before eventually joining the Roanoke River in Virginia.
Throughout its course in North Carolina, the Dan River’s outstanding beauty offers paddlers and fishermen miles of relatively undisturbed wilderness and excellent fisheries. The Dan River’s cleaner waters are home to several species of rare and endangered fish and freshwater mussels including the orangefin madtom (Noturus gilberti), bigeye jumprock (Scartomyzon ariommus) and the federally endangered James spinymussel (Pleurobema collina) while its shores are home to several rare plants including the state threatened Virginia cup-plant (Silphium connatum), state species of special concern goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), and federally endangered small-anthered bittercress (Cardamine micranthera).
A major tributary to the Dan River is the Mayo River in Rockingham County, where PLC has helped acquire tracts forming the Mayo River State Park.
The Natural Heritage Inventories conducted in Stokes and Rockingham County identified 19 unique natural areas as regionally, state or nationally significant. Dan River Riparian Corridor Design Studies identified and set priorities for parcels in need of protection and/or restoration to maintain and enhance the water quality of the Dan River.
As with any river, the quality of the Dan River both in terms of its water and the habitat it provides is impacted by a variety of factors. Consequently, Piedmont Land Conservancy is partnering with several other agencies and organizations including Dan River Basin Association, Natural Resources Conservation Service, NC Plant Conservation Program, and NC Department of Parks and Recreation to protect and improve the ecological function of the Dan River Watershed. By working together, we can pool our resources and expertise, then use available data to ensure this natural and recreational resource will continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.
With the acquisition of the 175-acre Hill Farm on the Dan River in 2014, more than two miles of frontage on the Dan River is forever protected. This property is located across the Dan River from Jessup Mill, a historic grist mill constructed in 1910, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and offers camping, hiking, tubing and special events.
Protection of the Hill Farm launches an initiative to conserve the pristine waters of the Upper Dan River. Throughout Stokes County the River is designated a Nationally Significant Aquatic Habitat for its high fish diversity and has long been a target area for PLC. The Dan River Gorge, a section of the river just below Jessup Mill to Georges Mill (NC 704) is particularly special, and listed as a Nationally Significant Natural Heritage Area. With excellent water quality and large forested tracts along the river, this section provides excellent habitat for the federally endangered James River Spiney mussel and other species. These “nationally significant” designations carry no legal restrictions on properties in this area, however.
In 2017, PLC transferred 155 acres of forests and fields to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC). The land will be the first WRC-owned fishing access to the Dan River in the county. Dan River’s trout fishing waters are the nearest trout fishing opportunity for residents of the Triad.
Hunting and fishing regulations for the new Hill Farm Game Land are currently being promulgated by WRC.
“The Conservancy spent five years pursuing these properties with the ultimate goal of providing greater public access to the Dan River,” said Kevin Redding, executive director of PLC. “Fishing enthusiasts and hunters will soon have a new opportunity to access one of the Piedmont’s special places.”
The Dan River holds more than just trout and smallmouth bass. Recent sampling by the WRC identified several rare freshwater mussels along the river’s bottom. Stokes County is also a globally recognized hot-spot for populations of sucker fish. According to the WRC, of the 80 globally recognized species of suckers at least 29 occur within North Carolina. The most recent edition of Wildlife in North Carolina, a magazine published by WRC, proclaims that “Stokes County’s eleven species of suckers are more than any other county or similar-sized area on Earth”.
Funding for this project was made possible by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, PLC’s Patty Nussbaum Conservation & Support Fund, Duke Energy’s Water Resources Fund, the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund, Fred and Alice Stanback, and the Conservation Trust for North Carolina.
[accordion title=”Dan River Bends” active=”no”]Located adjacent to the North Carolina State University’s 4-H camp, Camp Sertoma, and a mile downstream of the previously protected Historic Dan River Ford, this property was identified as being part of the regionally significant Dan River Bends Site in the Stokes County Natural Heritage Inventory (1998). The site achieved its regional significance due to the presence of habitat for several rare and uncommon plants including the cliff stonecrop (Sedum glaucophyllum), the northern cup-plant (Silphium perfoliatum), and the federally endangered small-anthered bittercress (Cardamine micranthera). The site’s forested bluffs along the Dan River identified this property as a high priority for water quality protection in the Upper Dan River Corridor Riparian Design Phase I (2000).
PLC acquired this small, yet significant parcel in 2001 when the owners, aware of its conservation value, approached PLC prior to placing the property on the market. Since purchasing the property, PLC received funding through the Virginia Office of the US Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct on-site restoration work that included stabilization of the river access, tree planting in the former tobacco field in the bottomland, and culvert replacement on the access road. Currently, this preserve is only open for PLC-related events.
Project funding provided by PLC, the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
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Identified as a regionally significant natural heritage site in the Stokes County Natural Heritage Inventory, this property encompasses an excellent quality mature hardwood forest comprised of yellow poplar, river birch, beech, oak, hickory, walnut, and scattered sycamore. The forest provides critical habitat for declining neotropical migratory songbirds and other wildlife species. Additionally, the presence of a significant forested riparian buffer led to this site’s identification as a high priority for protection of the Dan River’s water quality in the Dan River Riparian Corridor Design Phase I (2000).
Accessible only by the river, PLC acquired the Historic Dan River Ford in 1998. Its steep slopes and rocky outcrops add geological interest to the site as well as provide habitat for several rare and uncommom plants including the federally endangered small-anthered bittercress (Cardamine micranthera), northern cup-plant (Silphium perfoliatum) and the significantly rare cliff stonecrop (Sedum glaucophyllum). Upon acquisition of this site, PLC granted a conservation easement to the State to ensure that the sites conservation values were permanently protected.
Project funding provided by the landowner and the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund.